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Wolf buries Packers

Former GM says season a lost cause

By TOM SILVERSTEIN

Posted: Nov. 22, 2005

Witness to the Green Bay Packers' eighth loss of the season from a luxury suite inside Lambeau Field, former general manager Ron Wolf walked out of the building early Tuesday morning with a sharp understanding of the reality of the team's position.

"They're playing with guys who are NFL Europe-caliber. It just doesn't work." - Ron Wolf, former Packers general manager.

And unlike many in the organization who won't, or can't, say it publicly, Wolf did Tuesday evening: the Packers' season is lost and there's no December rally to save it.

"At some point when it's over, it's over," Wolf said.

At 2-8, the Packers are one defeat away from suffering their first losing season since quarterback Brett Favre became the starter in 1992 and the 20-17 loss to the Minnesota Vikings Monday showed how unlikely it is they'll avoid it.

It struck Wolf as he was watching the Packers muster just two touchdowns against a defense ranked 25th in the NFL that this was not a team capable of winning many games with the offensive people it had on the field. He said the injuries the Packers have suffered have left them with a five-star conductor to lead a two-bit band.

"The fear you have in salary cap football is that when you lose the caliber of players that they've lost you have no way to replace those players," Wolf said. "And you can see that. They're playing with guys who are NFL Europe-caliber. It just doesn't work."

Wolf acknowledged that except for the wide receiver and possibly the running back positions, this Packers' offense is more talented than the one he put on the field during his first season as general manager in 1992. But he said the absence of someone who can do something with the ball after Favre delivers it was so noticeably evident that he cringed after watching two critical plays in the game.

"Last night, you could not have thrown a better pass than the one he threw to (Andrae) Thurman," Wolf said referring to a third-and-10 incompletion inside the Minnesota 10-yard line with just over 3 minutes to go. "If it's first down, they go in and score a touchdown, it's a different ball game."

Wolf also said Favre's throw to Thurman that was intercepted and returned for a touchdown could have been prevented if Thurman had dragged his route outside. He said plays like that torture coaches because they can't limit throws to just one receiver.

"Can you imagine how frustrating it is for those guys?" Wolf said. "To put in all that time and suddenly be wiped out and have to approach games like this, trying not to make a mistake so you can at least be competitive? You can't win."

Wolf said if current general manager Ted Thompson is still evaluating coach Mike Sherman's performance he has to take into consideration that the Packers have been competitive. The fact that five of the Packers' eight losses have been by three or fewer points and none has been by more than 14 indicates that Sherman has done something right this season, Wolf said.

He said if he were evaluating Sherman's future he would look closely at two or three areas.

"I think you look to see if you're competitive and in the games," Wolf said. "Who's playing and what adjustments are made. Only he (Thompson) knows that, how they've done through all this trial and tribulation. It's got to be tough when everyone else is playing with aces, kings, queens and jacks and you're playing with 10s on down. It's tough."

Wolf did not blame Thompson, the man he recommended to replace Sherman for the GM position, for the Packers' predicament. He said the number of injuries the Packers have suffered on offense is simply more than one team can protect itself against.

During his 10 years as general manager, Wolf never had to face a situation as dire as this one. Even when the Packers weren't very good, as was the case in 1992, 1999 and 2000, they were still in the playoff race at the end.

This team isn't and faces the task of dealing with what to do with the final six games.

On Monday, coach Nick Saban of the 3-7 Miami Dolphins said what many of his brethren in hopeless situations are unwilling to say: that the remainder of the season will stand primarily as an evaluation period for next season. He wants to see who can help him in the future and who is willing to play hard.

Asked whether that would be the case in Green Bay, coach Mike Sherman said he made those kinds of evaluations in the first half of the season and the second half would be no different. He said he would know better at the end of this week whether there would be players who went into the tank as a result of the team's situation.

Wolf said the remaining couple of weeks will tell Thompson and Sherman a lot about the players they have on the roster. They don't have many changes they can make in the lineup because injuries have forced them to thrust young players into prominent roles.

One move Wolf said would make no sense would be sitting down Favre to see if rookie Aaron Rodgers can play. Wolf said if Favre can't win games with the talent currently around him, what good would it do for Rodgers to go in and fail.

"There's a lot of different ways to do things," Wolf said of approaching the final weeks. "Ted is a more patient individual than I am. I would assume he would do it a little differently than me. But at some point you have to find out who can play and who can't. If you're playing guys who can't play, you're kidding yourself.

"This is the big leagues. It's not Aunt Fannie's Taffy Pull. You have to play big-league players. They don't have a running back. Maybe that kid (Samkon Gado) had an off night, but those other two guys (Tony Fisher and ReShard Lee) are NFL Europe players."

Wolf did not paint a completely bleak future for the Packers despite the fact they stand to finish with one of the worst records in the NFL. He said based on the quick turnaround of teams like the Dallas Cowboys, he thinks the Packers could be a playoff team next season.

"With a good draft and a couple free-agent signings, you can do it," Wolf said.

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